SDB has a great essay up about the North Korea problem, and in it he gives a concise (!) explanation of America's Cold War nuclear deterrence policy (which I've commented on previously, slightly objecting to one of SDB's earlier positions; I either misunderstood what he was saying before, or he's rethought it and now agrees with me).

In that case, the Bush administration would have to publicly and formally renew a basic tenet of Cold War deterrence policy: any nuclear blackmail will be treated as if a nuke had actually been used, and the response to any such threat will be maximal.

During the Cold War, nuclear blackmail was one of the dangers. What would we do if the Hotline phone rang and the voice in the handset said, "Pull your forces out of Germany or we'll nuke Pittsburgh"? The strategists wrestled with that, and ultimately concluded that only deterrence could prevent such a thing. Thus it became American doctrine that if we received such a phone call, then the President would "push the button" (or at least consider doing so). Understand that I don't mean that it would happen ten seconds after hearing such a thing; there'd be time for diplomacy, and an attempt to deal with the situation via lesser means. But in the final resort, if we really faced such a demand, then it was publicly stated that American doctrine was to launch every nuke we had. No "proportional response", no city-trading-duel, no waiting to see if Pittsburgh really did get vaporized before launching. It was important that this be public because like any deterrent its real purpose was to make sure that the situation didn't arise at all. Since the Soviet leadership knew that was American doctrine, they couldn't be at all sure that we wouldn't really do it if they made that phone call, and it never happened. ...

We'd also have to establish a new doctrine, and this would be more controversial and politically risky. The doctrine would be that if anyone set off a nuke in our territory and no one claimed responsibility, or if a terrorist group claimed responsibility, in that case we'd also obliterate NK. No questions asked, no excuses listened to, no attempt to determine if the nuke had been sold by NK, no delays, no nothing. Under this doctrine put in place after an NK nuclear test, if any city of ours was destroyed, NK would be destroyed as soon thereafter as we could manage. That's the only way we can limit the danger that NK would surreptitiously sell one or more nukes to someone like al Qaeda.

That's the spirit of what I said before, although he says it more clearly and at greater length.

The only disagreement I have with what he's written is his characterization of evil.

Deterrence is a real moral problem. In some cases it's the only way to bring about the best possible case, but the only way you can have a deterrent is by being willing to commit tremendously evil acts. Is it immoral to be prepared to do evil things if through your willingness and preparation you avoid the need to do so and also prevent someone else from doing the same evil thing? Regardless of whether it's moral or not, that's what we'd have to do.
I don't think that nuclear deterrence is evil, even though we're threatening to obliterate the innocent people who live in a (presumably non-democratic) enemy country. In fact, even if we were put in a position such that we had to carry out the threat, our actions wouldn't be evil. Yes, millions of people who were not directly involved in the decision to threaten/attack us would be killed, but the morality of it seems very similar to the morality behind felony murder laws (which vary state-by-state, but are all pretty similar).
The felony murder rule is as old as this country. It's designed for instances where two people go to rob a bank. The getaway driver waits in the car-the robber goes in and shoots the teller-prosecutors can charge both with first-degree murder. ...

Under the state's felony murder rule, a person can be charged with murder if someone dies while the person is committing or attempting to commit a felony like arson-even if the death is accidental. Prosecutors don't have to prove intent, an element usually required for a first-degree murder conviction. ...

In Colorado, the felony murder law says the death of anyone during a serious crime or the "immediate flight" afterward makes everyone involved in the original crime guilty of murder -- no matter who did the actual killing or when.

Felony murder laws lay the responsibility for any deaths that occur during the commission of a felony at the feet of the criminal, even if he doesn't intend to kill anyone. An unarmed man tries to rob a bank, the security guard shoots at him, misses, and hits a customer, killing him -- the would-be bank robber is guilty of felony murder.

Similarly, if America is threatened or attacked with nuclear weapons, and we respond, the deaths that result are fully the responsibility of the people who provoked us to self-defense. Our policy of deterrence is not evil, any more than the bank guard in the above example was evil.



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